Positive attitude aids in youth's cancer recovery

Thirteen-year-old Justin Stegemann is home in Gardnerville for about two weeks to recover from cancer surgery and follow-up treatment he received the past two weeks.

Justin was diagnosed several months ago with neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor that originated on his adrenal gland.

After undergoing nine hours of surgery, the tumor was removed, along with several lymph nodes the cancer had spread to.

"He's doing pretty well," David Stegemann said, Justin's dad.

"The immunotherapy was tougher than we expected. The doctor told us it would be painful, but I had no idea. I didn't know if I'd make it through the first week - but Justin did. He did a great job of controlling his pain. He's got a great attitude."

Stegemann said the chemicals in the therapy do not recognize the difference between the cancer cell and nerve cells and attack both when they enter the body. Justin needed oxygen and heavy medication to control the pain, which caused him to go into convulsions at times.

"He woke up the second day at 5 a.m., picked up his bass guitar, and started playing Ozzie Osbourn songs," David said. "He woke me up, but I knew then he was going to be OK."

David said he helped Justin with self-hypnosis to control the pain.

"I told him he physically had to be there, his body, but his heart, soul and mind could be somewhere else. It helped a lot. And, we need to get some weight back on him. He went in at 138 pounds, and he's now at 107. Hopefully, we'll get him back to 125 before we go back (to Manhattan)."

A fund-raiser will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov. 1 at Gilson Auto Body and Mechanical, 405 Moses St. The day includes a car show, blood drive, stereo war, raffle, food and entertainment. Funds will help the Stegemann's pay for medical expenses.

Justin underwent immunotherapy the week of Oct. 6, then four days of chemotherapy starting Oct. 13. He and David arrived home Saturday. When they return to Manhattan, Justin will undergo tests for a bone-marrow transplant.

"A lot of his bone marrow was killed off by the chemo," David said. "Chemo is great for killing cancer, but bad on bone marrow. So if anyone would like to donate blood in Justin's name to United Blood Services, please don't wait until the fund-raiser to do it. They can go in now and say it's for Justin."

Stegemann added there are many others besides Justin who need blood donations.

"If we can get the word out, it would mean a lot. Justin doesn't need a bone marrow donor, but there are a lot of people who do. People of color need help in finding a match."

Stegemann said Justin's prognosis is good. His primary physician, Dr. Kirschner, is positive about his response to treatment. With that, Stegemann feels Justin's odds are better than the initial prognosis of 1-in-3 odds of surviving.

"Every time we get through one of the treatments, we clear another hurdle and our odds get better," Stegemann said. "At six months, Justin's' cancer has not spread, it has shrunk.

"And Justin's staying positive. I don't want people feeling bad for Justin because Justin doesn't feel bad. I'm inspired by Justin. I've learned so much from him. I'm pretty confident we'll get a win out of this.

"He's doing good."


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